On each of our tea journeys, we discover our own unique ways of preparing tea. Some of us prefer the gaiwan to the teapot, oolong to white tea, or unsweetened pure tea to the use of creamers. There is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to make your tea as long as you understand what brings out the best flavors given your constraints. If you’re satisfied with your cup of tea, then you’re probably doing it right.
And yet, in spite of however well-intentioned we might be, there are some very common mistakes many of us make that unquestionably affect our cups of tea for the worse. The degree of these effects can vary from subtle to extreme, but in either case, it’s usually pretty easy to correct most of these mistakes (and fixing them will make a difference).
Today, we’re going to look at one of those mistakes: letting your tea leaves sit too long between infusions.
This may seem like a no-brainer, and yet, if you catch any of us on a particularly slow and lazy day, it might be surprising to find how easy it is to talk ourselves into believing it’s okay to leave our tea leaves lying around for hours at a time (or even overnight). This is a bad idea for a couple of important reasons.
For one, in a worst-case scenario, moist tea leaves compacted together in a humid environment create the perfect recipe for mold and fungi to colonize and proliferate. If you’re not paying attention, you may not even notice any growth, and this is especially the case if your tea leaves are sitting in an infusion basket or teapot. It’s just way too easy to pour hot water over them and begin to make a new cup. As a general rule, don’t let your tea leaves sit around for more than 3 hours at a time. If more time than that elapses, then consider making a fresh cup of tea with new tea leaves.
Another issue with wet tea leaves is that they tend to be especially absorbent of surrounding odors, and so the longer they sit around, the greater the chance they’ll pick up any smells lingering in the immediate environment.
Sometimes, these smells are not even noticeable to you because you’re acclimated to them. Have you ever visited a place that had an unappealing smell that the occupants didn’t seem to notice? The same sort of thing can apply here. There was a passionate tea drinker who once said that he had transported an infuser of used tea leaves from home to work, driving with the windows down a short distance. Though he didn’t detect anything abnormal on his drive, when he resteeped his leaves at work, guess what happened? His tea now had a hint of car exhaust! Yuck!
A good thing to remember is this: if your tea tastes different than you remember, throw it away! Your taste buds and sense of smell are typically well-suited for detecting some of these problems.
Now, if you are adamant about making the most out of your tea, there are little things you can do to help minimize these problems. First, don’t let your tea leaves remain wet and clumped together. Empty your infuser basket, gaiwan, or teapot, and fan them out over a paper towel. Next, take a second paper towel and gently pat them down, drying them as much as possible. At this point, you can either let them air dry or even carefully blow dry them at low heat. Finally, once they seem thoroughly dry, place them in an air tight container until they are ready for another use, ideally within the next 24 hrs.While we, in general, do not recommend that you reuse any tea leaves that have been sitting out, following the above instructions should at least help preserve your leaves for another infusion or two if you are in fact intent on resteeping your old leaves after an extended period of time.